We had an enquiry today, one we receive relatively frequently, asking how to find out who owns a particular war memorial. This query most often comes from people who are either looking to carry out some restoration work to the memorial or to add a new name. Sadly, with the increase in casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is becoming more common.
However, ownership of war memorials may not be straightforward and can often entail no small amount of detective work. The knowledge may have become lost over time, or it may never have been clear-cut. Where it is known to us, we do record the owner on the UKNIWM online database, so it’s always worth trying us first.
Other options include the local branch of the Royal British Legion and asking around the local community. Potential owners can include the local authority, a committee, church, club or private individual. If you cannot determine who owns the memorial, Local Authorities were given the power by the War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act of 1923 to maintain, repair, protect and adapt war memorials in their area, whether they own them or not. However, they are not obliged to do this and it is entirely up to the individual Local Authority to decide what action, if any, to take.
It is likely that this Battlefield Cross was recovered from a cemetery on the Western Front by Captain Drury’s relatives and placed in their local church grounds as a memorial. But who owns it now, the church or the descendants of Captain Drury’s family, if they’re even aware of its existence? This becomes even more of an issue with redundant churches.
‘Ownership’ might perhaps seem a rather inappropriate concept for memorials that were often paid for by public subscription and erected for the benefit of all members of the local community. Perhaps ‘custodianship’ would be a better word for what is hopefully a role of protection and oversight.